Leadership styles is a theory of leadership that looks at the broad characteristics of what it means to be a leader and the style of the leader.
Ground-breaking research at the beginning of World War II by Kurt Lewin highlighted three styles of leaders and sought to understand what was the most effective.
Three Leadership Styles
- Authoritarian / autocratic leadership style is where the leader gives clear and explicit orders, with the followers have no input to the goals or way of working. They were told to just do it.
- Democratic leadership style is one where the leader seeks input from followers about goals and how to proceed, and then guides followers with little external structures
- Laissez-faire leadership style is where the leader leaves the running of the group to the followers, taking a hands-off approach and all decisions are made by the followers.
Leadership Styles Outcomes
Extensive research indicated a different follower response and output, with autocratic leaders having the highest output as the followers worked hardest when the leader was present but skived off when the leader wasn’t there. The level of creativity was the lowest in an autocratic group. An autocratic leadership style may be preferable when quick, decisive action is required but less preferable when creative or sustained efforts are desired.
Self-motivation and responsibility were highest in the democratic style, with followers continuing to work even if the leader wasn’t present. The group may have been less productive but the quality of the work was higher, with the highest level of creativity. Morale was also very strong.
The least productive style is laissez faire, as groups tend not to work cohesively and the work is disorganised.
Further studies indicated that people prefer democratic or participative leadership during times of low stress but favour a more autocratic style during a crisis.
Leadership Styles Legacy
Leadership styles was the first theory to explore the behaviours & traits of leadership, which overtime began to be seen as inadequate in fully explaining the universal effectiveness of leadership, although it is useful to understand the “what” in leadership. Leadership styles theory starts to highlight that different leadership styles are most appropriate for different situations, which were explored in situational theories and contingency theories of leadership.
Leadership styles is a great introduction to the complex topic of leadership & management, something we discuss more in our blog, going into more detail about various leadership theories, biographies of leaders and leadership development.
Developing leadership is a challenge both for the organisation and for the individual, and since leadership is highly contextual, executive coaching offers the best opportunity to develop different leadership techniques for differing different environments.
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